Questions and answers
Updated: Sep 11, 2021
Do you ever question your effectiveness?
While such concerns have shadowed most of my efforts since I started down this book-publishing path five years ago, a recent Instagram conversation brought this self-examination to a sudden and insightful high.
This requires a fair bit of explanation, so jump to NOW if you want to skip ahead to the insults. Those of you still here may read this brief history lesson that helps explain that rant. So on we go!
By taking my self-publishing route, I knew I would need time – possibly a great deal of time – for my novels to gain traction and earn money in an age when fewer and fewer people actually read. My books also faced problems making ripples in a potentially small audience, for these tomes usually draw the Christian fiction label – a niche that’s proven increasingly difficult to sell over the last few decades unless the plot weaves an apocalyptic tale or the book’s spine bears the name Lewis or Peretti.
For these reasons I created a tight business plan:
1. Cut all expenses to the bone.
2. Seek additional revenue streams to augment my savings and cash flow.
3. Promote books through my website, social media, and e-sales platforms.
4. Identify and focus on potentially active readers.
5. Encourage reader support.
I started with few resources for true advertising, and only marginal funds for setting up my website, so I learned how to launch that platform myself on Wix (first as www.godsfurryangels.com, and then www.kirbyleedavis.com) while building a presence on Facebook and Instagram. That’s where it got a bit trickier.
While active readers make a good target for any author, successful social media platforms need a much broader audience to succeed. That’s why I started posting an average of two or three human-interest items daily on Instagram and Facebook, all drawn from songs and blogs I’ve written, or photos and observations from my daily walks, or covers of books I’m reading, or events from my past, or things I find funny. Every few days I also dropped in a recurring feature or two, like my favorite photos or teasers of my website show “Gimmie That Old Time Religion! With Kirby Lee Davis!”
I figured this diverse mix, all framed by my Christian heritage, could generate a diverse pool of followers and friends that might be attracted to my books. I then slip in some curiosities about my novels – provocative quotes, watercooler intrigue, analysis on their history and philosophy – things of value I hoped would spur interest. I limit myself to no more than one such post a day, so that people recognizing my marketing efforts may tolerate that or even play along.
As might be expected, this tactic scored some successes and failures.
Since The Prophet and the Dove was making its debut, I opened my Facebook author page with a paid U.S. advertisement that drew far more anti-Christian hatred than potential reader inquiries – and the numbers escalated as debaters entered the fray. Horrified, I dropped that ad after two weeks, hoping Facebook’s natural post sharing might provide some momentum. Just the opposite happened, as that platform seemingly refused to spread my materials unless I paid for placement (which it asked me to do daily). Despite starting with 57 followers, not one free post that first year reached even 10 people, with exposure counts less than half that.
I started Instagram soon after, and in a strange position: with but a handful of followers yet following more than 1,000 accounts. But here my posts reached outsiders, allowing me to top 1,000 followers in just over two years. At first it concerned me that the vast majority of these accounts came from overseas, but as I reflected on that, I remembered Amazon.com’s reach beyond my homeland. Since it was and is the biggest seller of my books, I figured this exposure could be a very good thing.
Girding my ambitions, I keep at this daily. But with four novels now on sale and a fifth in the editing stage, the need to realize readership momentum weighs upon me – and that reinforces those natural questions about whether my biz plan remains on track or needs adjustment.
In my efforts to be transparent, sometimes I share such concerns in my blog or posts, just to see what happens (Yes! Right now you’re in the middle of one!). Responses may draw blanks or get very interesting… and even wounding.
This week an Instagram contact messaged me thanks for supporting their posts. I offered similar appreciation in this late-night dialogue, then mentioned how I sometimes wonder if my posts hit their targets.
“You of all people should know the power of BELIEVE,” came the response, followed by three multicolored hearts.
I drew reassurances from that, for it suggested this nameless person knew not only my Christian faith, but the ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ statement I frequently leave as an initial post comment and response. With Instagram bridging together many cultures and languages from around the world. I figure (hope) pretty much everyone gets the meaning of those hearts.
“Oh, I do,” I answered to that BELIEVE reference, “but I also evaluate how I spend my time vs other available options. I find IG takes a fair amount of energy and effort, and as someone trying to sell books, I’m still trying to figure out/justify my ROI in this.”
“For a reading group?”
“For marketing purposes.”
That spurred me to pose this question. “Since the subject came up,” I wrote, “let me ask you: honestly now, have you read any of my books? Has anything I’ve posted made you interested in my books?”
Silence followed, and as I had other chores to complete before I went to bed, I got out of Instagram. As my clock approached midnight, I made one last IG check, finding a series of answers that made me forget any concerns with my return on investment (ROI):
“I have not read any of your books completed and your approach does not make me interested in your books.
“1 I'm not religious I'm spiritual. Meaning religion for me is wraped in deception. 2 your writting lack a certain fluidity 3 you ramble on, its ad if your just amusing yourself but no one ealse 4 i get the feeling you dont reach the public its ad if you live in a bubble and your frustrated that no one is listening. Your approach to reaching out is humdrum and boring. Even this continual repetition of now for some thing completely new is saturated in stuffiness. Your photos of bland country and river scenes and long monotonous monologues seem weird. Your whole approach is beyond old school. I'm not interested at all. Your songs are another story. The interesting question is; how do i capture and captivate an audience. Well you asked me 2 questions and i honestly answered them.
“You want people to dive into your world that does not look or seem inviting
“Life is in a constant flux of change. Do you go with change or resist it. Do you debate or actually listen?
“What are your objectives?
“But I like something about you. I know you have a good heart and you have compassion – “
It took some time and patience to decide how to respond. Those admissions on religion made a clear negative answer to my readership question; the rest of that unexpected rant just left me numb. The music reference amused me a bit, for I post those occasional songs hoping people might read the lyrics and become interested in my prose. That certainly didn’t work here!
All that negativity left me wondering why this person had ever supported my non-musical posts. Was it simply because I had supported theirs? That reciprocal pattern happens frequently on Instagram, but I doubt it ever helps sell books.
“Thank you for your feedback,” I answered. “This illustrates my dilemma. Marketing must connect with the right audience to succeed. I do not know if Instagram reaches my audience. There’s a lot of goodwill in this social media platform – i.e. trading a follow for a follow, a post like for a like. That doesn’t necessarily connect you with the right audience or put you on that path. Thus the quandary I shared with you before.”
Strangely, reflecting on this attack gave me some encouragement. It answered some of the questions I pondered, yet left me feeling secure in my approach. Why? Because I knew certain audiences would never accept me… like this one. I intended then to let the whole matter drop, but other messages followed:
“Would you be interested in trying some new ideas to reach your projects audience?
“Im proposing to experimenté a bit and try fresh approaches
“Its your delivery system that doesn’t work.”
It amused me to think someone who relished attacking something could then volunteer to try and sell that product to others. I knew just how to answer: “No, but thank you for asking. Have a good night.”
I awoke the next morning to this response:
“Your stubbornness and false pride block you from evolving.”
Tickled anew, I typed in, “No, you don’t understand. But thank you for thinking about me.”
To my surprise, that didn’t end things. A fast response followed:
“Would help me to understand? I’m open to discussion and explorative conversations.”
With that invitation, I explained my point: “There’s a basic rule of business: do not trust your product to someone who does not believe in it.”
A response soon arrived: “A comment like that is an accurate indication of how narrow minded you may be. I respect your point of view. Take care sir.”
With that mixed message, I allowed this person the last word. It seemed the least I could do.